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Britain's Birds (1 Viewer)

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Picked up mine this morning (I was out when they tried to deliver it on Saturday). First impressions are very positive. It's exceptionally well thought out and organised. The use of a 'practical' rather than taxonomic order (given the latest increasingly impractical manifestation of the latter) is a master stroke. Good, though, to see an annotated list giving protected status using taxonomic order (best of both worlds). Judicious use of tables outlining key differences in problem species pairs/triplets. Nicely judged introductions to families too and useful flight shots where needed. A good range of high-quality photos. Quibbling, like others, though, I found some of the maps misleading/inaccurate and distinguishing some of the smaller dots of colour (esp dark green vs dark blue) wasn't always easy. It should also be recognised that this is not field guide being too bulky and weighty for even the largest jacket pocket; put it in your rucksack or leave it in your glove box. It might not be quite so revolutionary as Crossley's approach but it's more functional and has managed to be extraordinarily comprehensive. It's not merely head-and-shoulders above other photoguides, it reaches down to somewhere around the midriff!

Nicola Main

Well-known member
So far so excellent the wealth of photos included is impressive and it's jam-packed with all sorts of information. I can see it will be great for both novice and expert alike. I really do love the wader plates in particular and the three pages on Redpolls are nice. I think this is the only British bird book I own that has even mentioned the Eagle Owl as an escapee and occasional breeder. The distribution maps are very disappointing, I've come across several now which I know are wrong, the maps in the recent Collins BTO book are more accurate. I still think every birdwatcher should own this and can't wait to take it out in the field the next time I get a chance. It will definitely have to go in the rucksack or bulky shoulder bag but we can't expect something this good with so much information to be pocket-sized it would be impossible! What does everyone else think about it? Ben Nevis any good?
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Carpe Carpum
Staff member
I'm beginning to dislike this type of thread. They usually end up costing me money. Just ordered a copy from Amazon:-O


John Cantelo

Well-known member
I've done a quick review on my blog of this book if anyone wants to have a nosy https://talesfromorchardcottage.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/britains-birds-book-review/

An excellent review. The comparison between the Marsh Harrier maps from the two guides is very telling indeed. I wouldn't be at all surprised if, when they get rid of the current stock, they quickly get out a second edition with corrected maps. The comparison also reminds one that they've missed a trick by not including a 'status' wheel or similar key. The Oxford Book of Birds (1964) had a very simple but effective system; . . (3) 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (11) . - this one is for Whitethroat . = not normally recorded, () = occasional, bold = nesting period and underlined = song period. Not perfect but it gave you a bit of an idea and simple to improve upon.

Aidan G. Kelly

Active member
I received my copy last week and am very happy with it. Impressive piece of work and great job by all concerned.
In looking through it, I did notice a few minor errors/omissions mostly relating to Ireland, which could be corrected in a further edition:

p.85 Double-crested Cormorant
The Irish record is not mentioned, unlike other entries where a single Irish record exist e.g. Sandhill Crane.
It is however listed in the checklist as being on Cat. A of Irish List on p.529.

p.324 and p.534
American Kestrel is listed on both pages as having a record for Ireland, although it has never been recorded in Ireland.

p.398 Rufous Bush Chat and White-throated Robin
Number of records and occurrence months seems to have been swapped between the two. Surely it should read:

Rufous Scrub Robin: <15 records(<5 Ireland), Aug-Oct.
White-throated Robin: <5 records (Britain), May-June.
and not the reverse...


Well-known member
About half and inch wider taller than Collins but pushing 2kg so it's a brave man who carries this into the field with bins scope camera etc etc
I hope I'm wrong but unlike the other smaller Wildguides the sheer weight may be an issue for the binding especially if used heavily.
I guess after all these years the old Mitchell Beazley guide will still be the most practical of all 'field' guides.

John Cantelo

Well-known member
About half and inch wider taller than Collins but pushing 2kg so it's a brave man who carries this into the field with bins scope camera etc etc
I hope I'm wrong but unlike the other smaller Wildguides the sheer weight may be an issue for the binding especially if used heavily.
I guess after all these years the old Mitchell Beazley guide will still be the most practical of all 'field' guides.

Good to see the much neglected Mitchell Beazley Guide get a mention. I'll be posting my review of Britain's Birds anon. Whilst I'm hugely impressed with both the industry involved and the final result, I absolutely agree with you, Russ, that it's effectively a superb field guide other than the fact it's too impractical, being overly heavy & bulky, to lug into the field!

Ben Nevis

Registered User
Ben Nevis any good?

I have had a bit more time to look through It and I think It Is very good.I don't think I shall be carrying It about outdoors with me but as a reference book,the different photos shall help with any tricky ID.Between this book and the Collins,I think I have the perfect combination.


Active member
I've just posted a typically overlong review of the book on my blog. It does at least have the virtue of a good few photos of the contents which should give you some idea of how good it is. Worth getting for the treatment of gulls and skuas alone! See http://birdingcadizprovince.weebly....britains-birds-its-pretty-useful-in-spain-too

A good review John. I see that you and others have picked up on the less than perfect maps. As you say, the book is more than 90% effective in Iberia, a fact appreciated by a blog reader in Portugal who ordered a copy after reading my own review.



Well-known member
I've been a little hesitant to comment on this thread so far as the last time I posted some comments on a field guide, it all got just a little bit out of hand...

However, I'm going to chip in with a few comments as, of the three main aspects of this book which disappointed me, only one (the maps) has been mentioned so far. Like others I'm surprised at just how many of the maps contain errors - generally not huge errors, although no Wessex population of Montagu's Harriers, and Balearic Shearwater apparently not visiting Cornwall seem like the sort of error that would have been picked up in a proof-reading browse by even a relatively inexperienced birder; given the calibre of the team involved in this book, I really don't know what's gone wrong here and can only assume this task was delegated to someone not in the authors list, and they ran out of time to check the results.

The other two areas where the book feels incomplete relate to the selection of photographs, and in some cases, the selection of species. If I was to compile a list of the photographs that I would want to include in a guide like this, I would try to think of all the possible taxa that I'd want to include (residents, migrants, vagrants, naturalised introductions, escapes, subspecies, hybrid etc) and then for each of these, compile a list of the plumages that I'd want to illustrate, in which positions and from which angles, and then take this complete list and rank it into priority order, based on the likelihood with which a birder is likely to encounter this species/plumage/pose, and use that as the basis for my photo search. Clearly the authors have done something very similar to this, but there are some odd omissions.

Firstly, juvenile plumages get a raw deal. There are some common, widespread and easy-to-encounter and photograph juvenile plumages which are not shown (e.g. Pied Wagtail, Wren, Chaffinch, Coal Tit) as well as some scarcer species where juveniles differ enough from adults to have made it worthwhile making a special effort to seek out a photo (e.g. Chough, Ring Ouzel and Lesser Redpoll). Some first-winters are miscaptioned as juveniles e.g. Spotted Flycatcher - where only tiny traces of juvenile plumage are left, and Yellow Wagtail - the individual captioned as juvenile/first-winter is definitely the latter. In addition, juveniles of Northern Wheatear, Stonechat, Common Redstart, and Nightingale are hidden away on separate pages from adults of these species, with a reference to this page buried in the species text, or not mentioned at all in the case of Stonechat.

Secondly, why are so few hybrids, escapes and aberrant plumages shown? To give a couple of examples: (1) I can count the number of (presumed) vagrant ducks I've found on the fingers of one hand, but the number of escaped and hybrid wildfowl I've just stumbled across while casually checking through flocks of commoner species runs well into triple figures. Their prominence in the book should surely reflect these sorts of likelihood. Some of these are shown, though often in just one plumage, and many taxa that the average birder is much more likely to encounter than they are to find a Barrow's Goldeneye, say, are omitted entirely. The most obvious example is the complete lack of a Muscovy Duck anywhere in the book - or is the reference on page 551 to this species attacking one of the authors the cause of this (safe spaces and all that) ? (2) I estimate at least 1 in 20 of the Carrion Crows in my home city are of the white-winged type, but this form isn't depicted anywhere.

These gaps are not by any means unique to this guide - Collins suffers in the same way to an extent - but given the care and attention to detail evident in so many other aspects of the book, they make it look unfinished. If I was asked whether this book was worth buying, I would probably on balance say yes - the book is distinctive enough and the problems not significant enough to make it a dud - and the work required to fix them is large enough that we're not in "just wait for a reprint" territory as we were with Collins or the second edition of the Sibley guide.

Nicola Main

Well-known member
Great Steve and you're very right! Definitely not all plumages for every species are shown as you say and I'm actually very disappointed in some of the main photos of some of the commoner species, Tawny Owl, Blackcap and Raven being three that come to mind first.

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Whilst there's nothing wrong with being a bit picky and critical, I do think that, in fairness, it ought to be also acknowledged that the book is an extraordinary effort which stands head-and-shoulders over every other photoguide. To criticise without recognising this strikes me as a little churlish. In my view, it's the first guide illustrated with photos that bears comparison to top level artist illustrated guides. It has got an awful lot right, it's very innovative, extremely well designed and the authors have got far, far more right than wrong. Overall, it shows an impressive and unrivalled range of plumages and would permit a user to correctly identify the overwhelming majority of birds that they're likely to see . I also think we have to be a little realistic in recognising that any book is constrained by costs, time factors, etc which authors/publishers may be acutely aware of and the readership blissfully ignorant. The hypercritical might think the book was only worth buying 'on balance' but I think most of us would do so unhesitatingly.
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Well-known member
John, apologies if my earlier post gave the impression that I thought that a) producing this guide had not involved a considerable amount of work and b) that the result is not a high-quality product compared to most other photo guides. I didn't think that needed saying, and the authors aren't exactly shy newcomers needing validation from Birdforum posters.

You are someone whose opinions I have a lot of time for, so I thought I'd spend an hour or so today taking a closer look at the book to see if my views changed. Rather than looking through the entire thing and picking easy targets, I thought I would spend some time looking in more depth at a group of birds with which I'm familiar, which are easily photographed, a challenge to identify and which exemplify the need for a guide like this to carefully depict the range of variation: the gulls.

Despite approaching this exercise with an open mind, I've come away reinforced in my views that the book is a "good effort" but far from the comprehensive guide that it could be. Here's a rundown of the taxa/ages/plumages/poses etc that are missing. To re-frame my point from earlier: if there is room to include multiple photos of Audouin's Gull, which is only likely to found in britain by a tiny fraction of the most dedicated birders, then surely there is room to include/correct each of the following, which will potentially be experienced by the average birder multiple times in their career.

Black-headed Gull
- neither of the at-rest first-winters are very representative, being quite faded unlike typical midwinter birds with much more prominent dark markings
- the patchy-hooded bird is labelled as a first-summer, which I'm sure it is, but moulting adults look like this too (making it a "false friend")
- Flight shot of the adult summer bird shows heavy shade on the underwing - surely a better photo of one of Britain's most common species could be found? (similar issues with adult Little Gull and first-summer Sabine’s Gull on p117, Lesser Black-backed Gull on p119)
- there is no photo of a late summer adult moulting its outer primaries, showing that distinctive double black dot on the leading edge of the wing, which catches out novice birders who think it must be something unusual

Mediterranean Gull
- No first-summer or second-summer shown
- Both flight shots of first-winters taken in poor light (cf much better photo in Crossley)
- All three flight-shots of adults have quite stretched wings – why not one with less stretched wings showing the Barn Owl-like rounded wingtip that is so different from any pose a Black-headed Gull is ever seen in

- No first-summer
- Adult summer doesn’t show the contrast between mid-grey of mantle/innerwing and paler grey of primaries well
- No photo showing just how distinctively translucent white the primaries of adults are when viewed from below

Little Gull
- No first-summer or second-winter
- No size comparison against Black-headed Gull

Bonaparte’s Gull
- No at-rest first-winter or adult winter

Common Gull
- Only one very young juvenile; older juvenile, which can be confusingly similar to juvenile Med Gulls on the deck, not shown
- Only one at-rest first-winter when this is this species’ most variable plumage
- No first-summer

Ring-billed Gull
- Only one at-rest first-winter when this is this species’ most variable plumage

Lesser Black-backed Gull / Herring Gull
- The juvenile gulls on p121 and p127 captioned as Lesser Black-backed Gull are far from classic individuals (I wouldn’t be happy ruling out Herring gull on these two until I saw them fly – would anyone else? If so, what features am I missing that gives you that confidence?). If the purpose is to warn beginners off from making uncautious identifications of juvenile gulls, then that’s admirable, but a majority of individual Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls in these plumages are readily identifiable at rest and it would have been good to show these as well (Ok, there is a juvenile Herring, but it’s in a pose that fails to highlight its most useful ID features, and I can’t find any photos of birds anywhere in the book that look like the typical juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls that are plentiful at this time of the year at the weir five minutes way from my house).
- No hybrid Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gulls shown
- No hybrid Glaucous x Herring

Iceland Gull / Glaucous Gull
- No at-rest adult Glaucous without head-streaking, and no at-rest Iceland with – another “false friend”
- Repeated reference to Iceland and Glaucous Gulls in “first-winter”, which is now generally accepted as an anachronistic terms for this pair

Great Black-backed Gull
- No at-rest first-winter

Yellow-legged Gull
- Just one at-rest first-winter and no at-rest juvenile
- No variation in adult appearance shown
- No at-rest older immature birds shown

Caspian Gull
- No at-rest older immature birds shown
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